Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Critical reviews

Rick wasn’t crazy about our Christmas poem this year.

It was bound to happen. Every December since 1992, which was the year we got married, I’ve cranked out a Christmas newsletter comprising about eight to twelve stanzas of rhyming pentameter, covering the events of the past year for us.

Initially, it was a lark, just something I thought would be fun for our first Christmas together. And there was plenty to tell that year: our wedding, the arrival of our first niece, our honeymoon in Venezuela, a trip to Colorado, a new job for Rick. And somehow I was able to make all of it rhyme.

Some years it was more difficult than others, but every year I managed to come up with something. This year, too, though I had to confess in the course of the poem that it hadn’t been a particularly eventful year – but that sometimes an uneventful year suits us just fine. The kids are well-established in school, happy and doing well academically; Rick and I both have plenty of work and plenty to do in our downtime. No safaris, cruises or mountain treks to describe; no major life changes to touch upon. And that’s fine with us.

Still, Rick didn’t think it was a very good poem, when it was done. But I didn’t really mind. After nearly 25 years as a professional writer under one guise or another, I’m pretty thick-skinned. Not everything I write resonates with everyone. Most of the editors I currently work with tend to offer very little criticism of my work, but I don’t necessarily see that as an altogether good thing, knowing it’s mostly because we’ve worked together long enough that I know just what they like.

And criticism can come from various places: not just editors and not just bosses. Last year a local realtor asked me to write a marketing piece for her, describing a historic property that was up for sale. I worked on it for days, and the realtor was delighted with the results, but one of my closest friends visited the property during the open house and said afterwards, not knowing I’d written the marketing materials, “The house is wonderful, but the brochure didn’t do it justice at all.”

I couldn’t really understand why she didn’t like it, and I don’t really know why Rick wasn’t too fond of this year’s Christmas poem. But in a paradoxical way, sometimes this kind of criticism makes me happy, because it reminds me that I’ve reached a point in my life and in my writing career when I understand that not everyone will like everything – and that one off-the-mark piece doesn’t make me an incompetent writer. It’s subjective, and I don’t take it to heart when someone doesn’t like something I’ve written.

On the other hand, it’s always useful to listen to people’s criticism and learn from it. I don’t have to impress or please every reader with every piece of writing, but I’d rather write marketing copy that my friends find appealing, and I’d rather write a Christmas poem that Rick considers an engaging reflection of our year.

So being thick-skinned is good in my profession, but been attuned to feedback is as well. I’ve learned a lot from pieces I’ve written that have been well-received, but I’ve probably learned more from those that haven’t. I put effort into everything I write. And sometimes it’s invaluable to learn, through negative feedback, how that same amount of effort might have been better used. And how I might be able to do better next time.

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